Learning to Manage ADHD in the Classroom

Todd Esposito is sure of three things: First, no teacher anywhere wants to walk into a classroom and not feel in control. Second, every student can learn. And third, there is no such thing as a student who wants to fail.

For the past 26 years, Esposito has served as a special education teacher in Rochester, NY, where he teaches ninth-grade algebra and 10th-grade applied geometry. The students in his classroom have various learning disabilities, including many with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

Students with ADHD have different ways of learning, retaining information, and demonstrating knowledge than their peers. These differences are often accompanied by behavior issues that further impair the ability to learn effectively in a typical classroom setting. Moreover, this behavior can potentially disrupt the entire classroom dynamic, affecting every student—not only those with ADHD.

According to the 2016 National Health Interview Survey, approximately 1 in every 10 school-aged children has ADHD. Still, most traditional teacher preparation programs include very little training on how to support students with ADHD and how to alleviate any consequential impact on other students.

“Special education teachers understand how to accommodate and motivate students with ADHD,” explains Esposito. “But many of my colleagues who are not special education teachers have multiple students with ADHD in their classrooms and must face the ongoing challenges that working with this population presents.”

These educators work tirelessly to strike the right balance between helping students with ADHD and ensuring that every student achieves their best. And they often search independently for the right resources to help them improve school success for students with ADHD and effectively manage classrooms that include multiple students with this disorder.

CHADD

Last year, Esposito was conducting online research about ADHD when he found Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD) and discovered the organization’s Teacher to Teacher (T2T) program. CHADD is a leading resource on ADHD, providing support, training, education, and advocacy for the 17 million children and adults in the United States living with ADHD, their families, educators, and health care professionals. The organization serves as home to the National Resource Center on ADHD, funded by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, making it the most trusted source for reliable, science-based information regarding current medical research and ADHD management.

The team at CHADD knows that educators are in a unique position to help children and adolescents with ADHD succeed not only in school, but in life. They just need the right tools. The T2T program—developed by teachers, for teachers—aims to bridge the training gap. This self-paced online course provides practical strategies and evidence-based techniques that enrich the classroom experience for everyone and empower teachers to help students with ADHD—and all students—to learn effectively.

“Teachers are about trying to improve school performance,” says Esposito. “How can we do that if we don’t understand how a student learns? When students with ADHD fail, we’re left to pick up the pieces. We need to find a way to build a bridge for these students, and these teachers, from failure to success. When I discovered CHADD’s Teacher to Teacher program, I realized that every teacher should take this course. I hope to institute an in-service day in my school district for this purpose.”

In the Classroom

T2T begins by building an understanding of ADHD and how it can impact students academically, emotionally, and socially. ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by developmentally inappropriate levels of inattention, impulsivity, and hyperactivity. It is a disorder of self-​

regulation, associated with numerous and serious impairments in every aspect of daily life, including home, school, social relationships, and work. There are three primary presentations of ADHD—predominantly inattentive, predominantly hyperactive/impulsive, and combined—and each presents with different symptoms. These symptoms can be mild, moderate, or severe.

Children with ADHD have higher rates of academic failure, high school dropout, substance abuse, unintentional injuries, and emergency room visits. Furthermore, ADHD often coexists with other disorders. The 2016 National Survey of Children’s Health found that 2 in 3 children with ADHD had at least one coexisting condition, such as anxiety, depression, or autism spectrum disorder. With proper diagnosis and treatment—which can include behavioral interventions, parent and patient training, educational support, and medication—children with ADHD can be very successful.

In the classroom, ADHD can manifest in multiple ways. Students with ADHD may have issues paying attention—becoming easily distracted, tuning out lessons, and daydreaming. They can be disorganized and forgetful—failing to take books home or to complete and turn in assignments, losing homework or school supplies, and keeping messy desks and backpacks. They can be restless—fidgeting with nearby objects, struggling to stay seated, and displaying impatience with waiting or taking turns. They can be impulsive—talking excessively, interrupting, making careless errors, exhibiting difficulty following rules, and disrupting the class. And they can exhibit poor work habits—experiencing trouble starting and finishing assignments and becoming easily frustrated.

Esposito says one of the biggest challenges for students with ADHD is a deficiency in executive functioning skills. Another significant challenge is teaching any student how to respond after failure. He recalls the story of a 17-year-old boy who transferred to his school from California last year. The student joined Eposito’s applied geometry class not because he had been previously diagnosed with ADHD, but because many of his credits did not transfer.

“He had great grades in my class, but he was failing history and English,” says Esposito. “He was completely unengaged in those classes. We recommended testing and found that he has ADHD and, on top of that, dyslexia—he couldn’t spell. He had given up. Once he was diagnosed, we provided him with books on tape and headphones to enable the read-aloud function during class. We came to realize this kid is brilliant. And with the proper accommodations, he’s now college bound.”

Esposito understands all too well the difference a diagnosis in the right classroom setting can make. He was diagnosed with mild ADHD at the age of 29. He says, “When a student knows what makes learning difficult for them, they can better compensate and be successful. I know that growing up when I had the right teacher, I was the right student.”

The experienced educators who developed CHADD’s T2T program understand the challenges ADHD presents. Through this interactive course, educators learn how to teach planning, cultivate organizational and time-management skills, reduce typical behavioral problems, and enhance students’ self-management skills. Participants also gain access to CHADD’s online ADHD community, which is customized to promote collaboration, information sharing, and ongoing guidance in supporting students with ADHD.

Moreover, the program content provides an overview of education laws, reforms, policies, and their implications for teaching students with ADHD. And the course explores innovative educational practices and model programs to build effective schools. T2T can help school districts manage the costs associated with special education, counseling, and other related services. The rich range of content included is beneficial for everyone in education—teachers, paraprofessionals, school psychologists, social workers, principals, school staff, and administrators.

Teacher to Teacher

The Teacher to Teacher online training course includes four modules, each comprising multiple sessions:

Introduction to ADHD

Class members will learn:

  • Types of ADHD (inattention or hyperactivity/impulsivity) and corresponding symptoms
  • Causes of ADHD
  • How differences in brain development and executive function deficits can impact learning and behavior
  • How ADHD affects academic performance of elementary, middle level, and high school students
  • The most common challenges in each grade and classroom interventions for overcoming these challenges

Classroom and Instructional Strategies

Class members will:

  • Explore various classroom and instructional strategies and identify the ones that work for the classroom (addressing memory deficits, improving reading and writing skills, fostering math skills, and staying on track for homework and long-term projects)

Organizational Skills, Time Management, Emotional and Behavioral Strategies

Class members will:

  • Understand how ADHD impacts organizational skills and learn strategies to help students
  • Understand how ADHD impacts time-management skills and learn strategies to help students
  • Understand how executive function deficits lead to emotional and behavioral challenges
  • Learn strategies to overcome behavior issues in the classroom
  • Describe the differences in working with children versus teens

Equity and Law, Implementing Effective Educational Practices

Class members will:

  • Understand education laws and key aspects that affect the educational rights of students with ADHD
  • Review eligibility under the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and services to support students with ADHD
  • Highlight school districts’ obligations and the role of the teacher in ensuring that students with ADHD are successful
  • Understand historical educational practices and examine current approaches
  • Look at effective educational practices and model programs
  • Use the e-learning community to foster collaboration

“If you look at the statistics, every school district has students with special needs, and many students without special needs still struggle with emotional problems,” says Esposito. “CHADD’s T2T program offers strategies that help teachers build strong relationships and essential trust with every kid, not just kids with ADHD. It’s just good teaching.”


April Gower-Getz is the chief operating officer of Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD).